What to do when a wound won’t heal
Our bodies have an amazing ability to heal themselves. Over time and with the right care, most skin wounds will heal.
But what if the wound doesn’t heal?
The skin is your body’s largest organ and accounts for six to eight pounds of body weight and 20 square feet on the average person. Fundamentally, your skin is a protective layer. It is your body’s first line of defense against germs and everything else in the external environment.
When your skin has a wound that isn’t just a paper cut — actually it’s a more severe injury, such as a severe burn, ulcer or a crush injury — you may need to see a wound care specialist.
The problem of chronic, severe wounds is pervasive. Chronic wounds affect 6.5 million people and cost more than $25 billion annually, according to one study published in the journal Wound Repair and Regeneration.
According to the study, the most common types of chronic wounds include:
Pressure ulcers — This wound occurs when excessive friction injures the skin and the underlying tissue. It usually affects people who are immobile, like those who are bedridden or wheelchair bound.
Diabetic foot ulcers — “Often times, people with diabetes lose feeling in their feet. So, they may have a wound and not know it until it becomes truly problematic,” says Dawn Falls, registered nurse and Wound Care Center Coordinator at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill.
Ulcers are a huge risk for the estimated 23 million people in the United States with diabetes, according to the study. Up to one in four people with diabetes will develop a foot ulcer, and about 12 percent of them will have to have their foot amputated because of it.
Venous leg ulcers — These are shallow wounds that develop because of poor blood flow to the leg veins. These ulcers tend to recur four or more times in about a third of people who get them, usually adults aged 65 or older, the study says.
The problem with wounds that won’t heal
Aside from pain and discomfort, chronic wounds can become inflamed or infected. If the wound goes untreated, it can grow, causing the inflammation and infection to spread. Ultimately, this could lead to an amputation or death, the study explains.
Many patients delay seeking medical treatment, but Falls recommends that patients who have a wound of any kind should seek professional treatment if the wound is not responding to at-home remedies after four weeks. “A wound care facility can offer more advanced treatment options, such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy,” she says.
Hyperbaric therapy consists of exposing the patient’s body to 100 percent oxygen at a higher pressure than normal. Because wounds need oxygen to heal properly, exposing a wound to 100 percent oxygen can help speed up the healing process.
“I tell all of our patients the same thing, though,” Falls adds. “Your skin is your body armor. You need to take great care of it.”
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health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.